Why I will never lend my books

Why I will never lend my books

I like to think I’m a fairly decent person: I pay my taxes, have a healthy aversion to violence and always fold back the end of the selotape.

But there’s one situation that is guaranteed to bring out the Mr Hyde in me; that makes my lip curl and my skin crawl up the back of my head: when someone innocently reaches for a book on my shelf and asks to ‘borrow it’.

Are you out of your tiny mind?

Don’t get me wrong. I’d do anything for you, my friend, especially when it comes to books. I’d climb the Kangchenjunga mountain if an independent book store lurked at its summit with a first edition Graham Greene that you craved. I’d read to you nightly, lovingly, each page of Finnegans Wake with my best Irish accent. Anything, anything, but please don’t touch my books.

Call me precious, but I find it impossible to part with something I’ve been so intimate with.

That book has been my daily solace, transporting me from the constant jabber of the tube, making me laugh like a gibbon or frown in thought. Then there was that time in the kitchen when it enraged me to the point of distraction and the pan of spaghetti bubbled over for the third time. And, finally, I found myself hunched over it, exhausted, face salty with tears, as I read the last line over and over.

There are always the scars to prove it: a smear of balsamic vinegar here, a sweaty finger imprint there; pages wrinkled beyond redemption from being dangerously close to a hot bath or badly shielded from a sudden downpour. There are tributaries of coffee, fluffs of wool, the odd rip and dent and fold – all the signs of a true, messy, devoted relationship.

Then there are my tangled notes in the margins: spidery writing, bus-jolted underlines, crooked stars and hearty exclamations. I’m sure we’ve all been there, scrawling profanities of delight alongside quotes of cracked kettles and dancing bears, the heartbreak of English butlers and doctor’s wives, modern-day hawks and Old English monsters, and heaventrees of stars hanging with ‘humid nightblue fruit’. These ‘notes’ aren’t eloquent or intellectual (far from it) but they are intimate conversations; a new kind of diary.

I’m the first person to want to talk about books till the early hours – I will always feel a need to know what you and the rest of the world think. But, for me, the actual process of reading and all evidence of this is (and I think should be) a sequestered, dark delight.

So next time you coyly ask to borrow my copy of Barnes or Bolano only to find me attempting to rugby tackle you to the ground, I hope you’ll understand the reason why.

(However, I can lend you lots of selotape).

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